1828 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Michael Bruce

Sumner Lincoln Fairfield, in "The Young Poets of Britain" Philadelphia Monthly Magazine 2 (September 1828) 327-28.



In a brief but affecting biography prefixed to his poems, Lord Craig has given the only information of which we are possessed relative to Michael Bruce; he was the son of a humble and pious Scottish cottager who restricted his own limited expenditures to give him a free education and was rewarded by the high expectations which his youth excited. But these were all rendered vain by that deadly foe to human life, consumption. In his twenty-first year the scholar and poet was hurried away from all his pictured scenes of happiness and fame, and his broken hearted mother left to bewail her irretrievable loss. Most of his poetry was composed while he suffered under the influences of disease, and while he moved, like a shadow, amongst the woods, and held eloquent communion with nature, or with a flushed cheek, talked of earthly bliss to his love, who well knew that he was journeying to a happier world. It is soft, and kind and gentle, as his own heart — gentle as the lapse of the summer rivulet — bright as the moon-beam that shone upon his wanderings — and melancholy as the poor girl who mournfully listened to his tale of hope. He never speaks of fame, but his whole spirit glows with that fire which lights the altar of immortality. With him life had no cares, no agitations, no remorse; and he avoided all anxious thoughts, by sending forth his spirit to admire the works of God, and resigning himself wholly to his will. The genius of Michael Bruce and that of the young German poet Korner were remarkably in contrast. Unlike the gallant hero of the sword and lyre, his spirit shrunk from war and tumult, and he enjoyed pleasure as exquisite on his still and lowly bed of lingering death, as thrilled the soul of Korner, when it parted from the battlefield, to seek its everlasting abode. In the one all was mildness and simplicity, in the other patriotism and sublimity. Each was fitted for his station: Bruce to console and comfort his weeping mother from whom he was soon to part; Korner to claim admiraton, and to perpetuate an exalted fame. With calm philosophy, or rather christian resignation, Bruce wanders and moralises among the woods and waters of "Lochleven;" with martial gallantry, Korner wakes his countrymen to avenge their rights by the trumpet notes or his "Wild hunting of Lutzow." In his parting elegy, Bruce bids a tender, pathetic, and holy farewell to all he loves on earth, and sinks to his final rest, mourned, but not lamented; Korner lies wounded on the cold ground at Asperne, and pours forth his last hymn to the God of Battles, with the same sublimity of genius which had marked his brief but bright career. They both fell in their youth; they both were devout christians. The path of the German hero blazed with a grander light, but the mild radiance of the Scottish poet comes over the heart like a charm of beauty.